The use of drones to deliver medical supplies to hard-to-reach communities in Kaduna State is boosting healthcare delivery in the state, the state government has stated.

In February 2021 the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a U.S.-based medical product delivery company, Zipline, in its efforts to address the challenges with logistics and the delivery of medical supplies to difficult-to-reach communities in the state.

Zipline is an American company that designs, manufactures and operates delivery drones. The company operates distribution centres in Rwanda, Ghana, Japan, the United States, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya.

The company’s drones deliver whole blood, platelets, frozen plasma and cryoprecipitate, along with medical products, including vaccines, infusions and common medical commodities.

Zipline, which started the delivery of medical supplies to remote areas of the state in August 2022, delivered more than 10,000 vital medicines and vaccines to hard-to-reach health centres in the state within five and 45 minutes of the order.

Zipline receives medical supplies from the Kaduna State Health Supplies Management Agency at their warehouse for proper inspection, the supplies are then scanned and labelled with an identification name and expiry dates.

The company also receives drugs and vaccines and keeps them aside, waiting for orders that come through a call centre that handles requests from healthcare facilities in hard-to-reach parts of the state.

Such orders are then arranged in a package box with a parachute to safely land at their required destinations.

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Also, the identification number of the order being transported will be scanned by flight operators to determine the location of the medication or vaccine for delivery and the parcel is loaded onto the drone, while the operator gets it to fly for delivery.

The drones, which can fly to their destination with no control, are connected to Global Positioning System (GPS) and communicate with all the drones in operational flight.

The drones have four components, namely: battery, nose cone, wing and body, required to propel, and maintain balance in air, data and connectivity interaction.

Benefits of drone delivery

During NAN’s field visit to the Zipline operations base in Pamgeguwa, Kubau Local Government Area of Kaduna on Thursday, the company’s Operations Manager (Nigeria), Samuel Noma, said the company’s presence has reduced maternal, infant and young children mortality in hard to reach areas of the state.’

Mr Noma said Zipline has reduced delays in drugs/vaccine deliveries to rural facilities, where personnel hitherto had to go long miles to buy medical supplies, leaving patients unattended to or waiting for service due to unavailability of handy medical supplies.

He said that Zipline also operates in Bayelsa and Cross River, and explained that the company makes deliveries to 291 medical facilities across 12 local government areas of Kaduna State.

He said one of the reasons for Zipline’s emergence in Kaduna was insecurity and unavailability of storage facilities for some thermolabile and sensitive medications like vaccines.

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“We coming in, we try to centralise and warehouse those medications, and when any facility needs it, at the instance of a call, we quickly deliver,” he said.

Also, Jeremiah Duna, the Head of Flight Operations, disclosed that Zipline drones travel at a speed of 100 kilometres per hour.

He, however, said that if the wind is too strong, the drone would warn the flight operator to monitor the situation or to avoid flying that route.

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“The drones use two GPS and backup networks; connectivity issues are something else that could be a real problem. In this case, the drones can make autonomous decisions and could return to the operations office when something doesn’t go well,” Mr Duna said.

Subsequently, during a visit to a health facility at Hayin Gada Nasaru, Pamgeguwa, Kubau Local Government Area, one of the drones was practically seen delivering medical supplies to the facility.

Tasi’u Abdullahi, a supervisor at the facility, who picked up the delivery, said that when the health centre requests drugs and vaccines, they are delivered in a short period, contrary to the long delays experienced when such requests were submitted to the Kaduna State Health Supplies Management Agency before the arrival of Zipline.

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He added that “before Zipline came, it was often difficult to re-stock supplies, which always takes longer than expected.

“Now that the health centre is working with Zipline, we simply place orders, and the deliveries are sent to us in record time. The supply of drugs has improved healthcare service delivery in our locality.”

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